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What Is the Tanya About?

What Is the Tanya About?

Photo by Oneinfocus.
Photo by Oneinfocus.


What is the theme of the Tanya? I was just introduced to the book by a Chabad neighbor, and I’m considering exploring this new area.


Mazel tov on your discovery of Tanya.

Tanya is the foundational work of the Chabad movement. It lays down the practical and mystical fundamentals of the Chabad philosophy. It was authored by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The major theme of Tanya is the ubiquitous Identity Crisis.

There are days when one indeed feels inspired by Judaism and spirituality, and there are days when they are a real bore. There are times when nothing seems more important than studying Torah or praying, and there are times when nothing seems greater than a steak and a good ballgame. There are moments when one is disgusted by the world’s immorality, and there are moments when one is tempted by it.

So, who are we? Are we to ignore our beastly temptations, or come to terms with them? And how is it that people possessing a G‑dly soul can be filled with such animalistic desires?

It is Tanya that guides us through our dual personality. It gives us the insight to understand and overcome the struggles we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Yes, we have a Code of Jewish Law that clearly tells us how to live every aspect of our life. But, even assuming we can keep the laws perfectly, there’s more. We would still be missing a key ingredient in our service of our Creator.

My behavior may be perfect. I may do exactly as I am told. But it’s not really me. It feels superimposed. There’s still me, and there’s my Torah.

Tanya teaches how to bridge that gap—to create a unity between my Judaism and my inner psyche. It makes my Torah and mitzvot a true representation of my personality. It allows me to truly feel—not merely act—like a Jew.

But allow me to make the following important points:

Tanya is not an easy reader. It takes concentration and dedication.

Tanya is not instant inspiration. It contains no short stories or pearls on the weekly Parshah.

Tanya is not a quick fix. It’s a journey that takes time and energy.

Tanya is a long-short road. It may be lengthy—but when you arrive, you’re truly home.

Tanya is a pair of glasses. When used correctly, everything will look different.

Tanya is a heart. It will pump life and energy into your Torah and mitzvot.

One more point. Studying Tanya properly requires a teacher who is versed in the subject. If you read it in its original Hebrew, or an English translation, you will only be scratching the surface. First of all, Tanya is replete with mystical terms which the uninitiated in this area will not understand. A skilled Tanya teacher will explain these terms and, more importantly, make them practical and relevant. Second, layers of meaning are hidden behind each word.

Speak to your local Chabad rabbi to arrange Tanya classes. If this is not possible, I would recommend you purchase Adin Steinsaltz’ wonderful books on Tanya, Opening the Tanya and Learning from the Tanya. You can also study Tanya online, using Lessons in Tanya, which does offer some help for the layman wishing to navigate Tanya’s deep waters.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar is a Chabad rabbi in Cary, North Carolina. He is also a member of the Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (17)
February 2, 2016
What has the Lubavitch movement written about the human ego? Also RebbevSchneerson
Norman Hauptman
December 20, 2013
Would Tanya be a start for a new jew?
Have not began yet. Have studied some Perka Avote, little Kabbalah, mostly Parshas & siddur. Would it fit & would my foundation be enough to understand? More commentary is always welcome.
Bellvue Colo
November 21, 2013
Thank You For Your Introduction.
This really answered reservations I had about re-learning Tanya.

Without a doubt, This teaching solidified my day school education. I know I experienced tehillim differently after studying here in Florida by learning with Rabbi Moshe Denberg.

Tanya made Hebrew School make sense to Me.

Bracha Hatzlacha.
Evan J. Dukofsky
November 20, 2013
R. Adin Steinsaltz' books on Tanya
These books (actually a trilogy) are great. They appear however to be out of print? Very difficult to buy at almost any price! Some Chabad Houses may have a copy in their library; to quote an oft used phrase "consult your local Rav!"
Moshe Rogoff
Burke, Virginia
July 1, 2011
The word "Tanya"
"Tanya" means "we have learned", and it comes from the Talmud -- Niddah 30b, which says, "We have learned, 'An oath is administered to him [a baby before birth]: 'Be righetous and not wicked, and even if the whole world tells you that you are righteous, regard yourself as wicked.''"

Then the Tanya says this contradicts Avot ch. 2, which says, "Be not wicked in your own estimation."

And from there, the Alter Rebbe begins the Tanya.
Avigayil Chana
Boston, MA
June 30, 2011
after a long hiatus
It's interesting I just got an email from Chabad about the Tanya. I never got an answer to my query about the name.

But this is curious, I just got an email from a very sweet friend who cares for my animals when I am away, and her name is close, being, TONIA.

Maybe this sounds really quirky, to email about this, but I am experiencing massive language connects of all kinds, using the aural in languages, by listening carefully to words themselves. I say all names and naming is connective. Maybe the connective tissue that binds us all.

I will have to investigate the Tanya since so much good is written about this, and I never have looked into this.
ruth housman
marshfield hilsl, ma
June 30, 2011
To Gene in CO
Hi Gene... I have been learning Tanya for ten years now with my Chabad rabbi.

Did you start yet? How is it? Can you answer your own question yet?
Avigayil Chana
Boston, MA
December 29, 2010
Can anyone tell me? Were not our teachers of old Avraham, Prophets , Cohen, all those who were early scholars wise men? can't we go back to the teaching they passed on and contain the original Torah without having to introduce another sect? Or are we just explaining foundational Torah in another way so it will be digestible to today's people?
Bellvue, Colo USA
December 29, 2010
I like the introduction
morris demel
san juan, p.r.
November 27, 2010
Freud and Tanya
I really wonder if Sigmund Freud was influenced by a Rebbe who explained Tanya to him?
Joseph Harker
virginia beach, va